5.20.2017

WE

At the end of my seventh-grade year, I took a cross country road trip with my grandparents. They had come out to visit my family in Marysville and attend my brother’s high school graduation. After Aaron’s big event, I climbed into the cab of Grandpa Casey’s old pickup and we began our journey east. Our destination: the Kansas City suburbs where I would stay with my cousins for a month.

Grandpa was a professional truck driver; in his career, he had traveled every mile of interstate in the continental US. After retiring, he avoided freeways. When he traveled for personal reasons, he stuck to state highways and back roads. Our drive to Missouri was post-retirement so it was a long trip of narrow roads, small towns, and empty spaces. Somewhere between Yakima and Walla Walla, I discovered that Grandpa did not have air-conditioning in his truck and I slowly realized that his definition of adventure was vastly different than mine.

Every stretch of road was a blur after the heat of Eastern Washington’s scablands. From Rocky Mountains, to Colorado plateaus, through the Midwest prairies and cornfields, it all blended into one seamless landscape of unmemorable blah. By the time we arrived in Weston, I felt as if I had arrived in the Emerald City after an overheated and torturous long stroll down the Yellow Brick Road.

We had one overnight stop between my home and my cousins. Grandma and Grandpa got a nondescript hotel room for the three of us in the middle of nowhere. The next morning, I learned a new fact about my grandparents. They were early risers, but I was already familiar with that aspect of their personalities. For as long as I can remember, their sunrise phone calls would wake up the Casey household every Saturday morning. There was another habit that was a part of my grandparent's marriage that I had never seen before. Every morning, after they awoke, they would kneel at the foot of their bed and recite the Lord’s Prayer.

That one morning in a podunk motel room, they invited me (insisted really) to join along. It is embarrassing to admit, but I mumbled my way through because I had yet to memorize that prayer. I could quote all the lyrics from REM’s Losing My Religion, but when it came to the most famous prayer in recorded history, I was lost after “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

Never before had I felt like such a bad Christian. My dad was a pastor for the first few years of my life. I had grown up in the church. We were the kind of family that attended worship services three times a week, only skipping for the grimmest illness. How had I managed to survive 13 years of life without fully learning the Lord’s Prayer?

Twenty-five years later, rest assured I now have those bible verses memorized. Although maybe not word for word. When I say it now, it’s more of an amalgamation of the King James and New International versions, seasoned with phrasings from The Message and children’s story books. When I quote scripture, it’s usually from the NIV – Nic’s Interpreted Version. Yet, to be honest, I still didn’t completely commit this passage to memory until I was in my early twenties and taking a class studying Koine Greek and biblical translation. Even then, it wasn’t a matter of rote memorization for some good Christian merit badge. It was part of a quest to understand scripture the way the original authors intended.

I’m still in that pursuit, learning more and more the older I get. Even as I approach mid-life, there are still discoveries inside the text, plainly obvious yet unnoticed until now. Or, at least, unnoticed by me. I’m sure my ideas are unoriginal in the full history of Christian academia, but these are still explosive revelations in my own personal studies. My most recent ah-ha moment was within the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Actually, within the first word of the prayer: Our.

So many times, when we pray, we start with “Dear God, it’s me,” followed by some Ben Stiller awkwardness like saying grace in Meet the Parents, throwing in some song lyrics because we don’t know what to say, then we make it more complicated than it needs to be. Perhaps Jesus knew we would resort to fumbling prose if left to our own devices and that’s why he taught his disciples how to pray. Not necessarily as a command “It must be said just like this, without deviation,” but more of a blueprint to guide what we construct. The Lord’s Prayer is a skeleton, bare bones to which we give flesh when we talk with God.

In the New Testament Greek, the prayer begins with two words, Πάτερ (or Pater, meaning Father) and ἡμῶν (or hēmōn, meaning ours or of us). Translating into modern English, we say “Our Father,” which gives us a good understanding of how Jesus wanted us to see God. It isn’t just “Father of mine.” That doesn’t work unless you’re Art Alexakis. It is “Father of US.” The word ἡμῶν is a possessive and plural pronoun. When Jesus delivered his instruction on prayer, he wanted us to know we are not alone. We are not spoiled little brats refusing to share. My God is more than just my God, He is yours too. And theirs. And ours.

We see this pronoun used repeatedly throughout the prayer. Give US OUR bread. Forgive OUR debts. As WE forgive. Lead US. Deliver US. We are in this together. By teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus was also encouraging them to embrace each other. It is as if Jesus was telling them “To follow me is a joint venture. You’re better together.” When I read the Lord’s Prayer now, I am reminded that my faith is not a hero’s journey; it is a communal experience. No more am I thinking about what happens when I pray, but instead what happens when WE pray.

5.17.2017

Knowing

Knowledge is infinite. The more I learn, the more I find is yet to be learned. I know what I know but I don't know what I don't know. I will never know everything, but I know a lot. As I reflect on my birthday, here are a few of those things I do know.


I know there is value in sarcasm because it is when most people are truly being honest. This is why Malcolm Gladwell said, "Comedians have become our truth-tellers."

I know there is a link between suffering and creativity, but that doesn't mean an artist must suffer to create their art. I know that an abstract painting or the perfect song can mend a broken heart.

I know the two most healing words in the English language are “Me too.”

I know the word necessary is unnecessarily difficult to spell.

I know anything is possible with quantum mechanics. And because of quantum mechanics, I also know that everything I know could be wrong.

I know everyone has biases and there is no such thing as an unbiased news source. Therefore, a biased news story is not the same thing as a fake news story. Possessing bias does not make someone a liar, it makes them human.

I know people are far more shallow, insecure, and self-centered than any of us would care to admit. All of us are selfish and struggle with our self-image, so let's just admit it.

I know there is a healthy balance between optimism and pessimism, between introversion and extroversion, between megalomania and self-deprecation, between the silly and the serious. I'm trying to find that balance.

I know white privilege is real and I am a benefactor. I also know what it is like to struggle. Therefore, I am willing to sacrifice my privilege to speak on behalf of those who don't have privilege and give them hope to see an end to their struggle.

I know that rainy days make me happy, sunny days give me hope, thunderstorms make me feel alive, and foggy mornings remind me of home. Yet there is nothing more calming than waking up to find the world has been covered in a fresh blanket of snow.

I know I’m Team Cap in the comic books but Team Iron Man in the movies. And I know that not everyone will agree with me.

I know I am far nerdier than the typical North Idaho male. My natural habitat is inside a library or movie theater, yet I feel most at peace while hiking a trail through the woods.

I know being nerdy is fashionable these days. And I know that geeks and nerds were bullied when I was a kid. I was a geek when I was growing up. I also got beat up a lot. Times change. At least I can say I was a nerd before being a nerd was cool. I know that last statement might be the most hipster thing I’ve ever said. I also liked dad-jokes before they were popular.

I know I am not mechanically inclined and I would be helpless without how-to videos on YouTube.

I know I am both a skeptic and a believer. I doubt and question everything. I know I have an analytical personality; I crave evidence and data. I have difficulty coping when I do not understand all of the details. There is no logical reason I should believe in God, yet I do. I know my faith is different than the God of Sunday School bible stories, sanitized for elementary-aged audiences and romanticized for American tastes, but I still believe.

I know there are two types of family: the kind you’re born into and the kind you chose. I love both my biological family and the friends who have become a second family. I would not be where I am today without either of them.

I know I am short and the shape I'm in is round. I can't do anything about the former but I am working to fix the latter.

I know caffeine is a drug; I'm addicted to Mt Dew and white chocolate crème de menthe breves. I know this contributes to my round shape.

I know I am a night owl by nature and an early riser by nurture. I know I have learned to cope with minimal sleep.

I know that I will be still be tired enough to go back to sleep after drinking coffee at 6am. But if I drink coffee at 6pm, I’ll be up all night.

I know my favorite word in the German language is schadenfreude. I know schadenfreude in action brings me more joy than it should. I also laugh at inappropriate jokes far more than what is socially acceptable.

I know live music almost always sounds better than studio recordings. I know there are exceptions.

I know hip-hop makes more sense to me now as a grown adult than it ever did in my youth. Yet, my heart will always belong to my 90's grunge and Seattle suburb roots.

I know that I am a single dad in the upper half of my 30s. This is not always an easy or comfortable place to be.

I know that my three kids are some of the most awesome humans on this planet. One of my favorite activities is trying to convince people to see my kids’ awesomeness.

I know this list could continue ad absurdum and if you’re still reading you deserve a medal. Or a gold star. However, the most important thing I know is that I am not done learning. There is still too much that I don’t know.

5.13.2017

Loving Their Mom

When I was a kid, my dad's office was a magical universe. He was a collector of antique books and the shelves of his library were stuffed with old and rare texts. The desk in his den was usually the best place to find pens or pencils, and he also possessed an old-school gumball machine that I liked to raid when friends came to visit. Disclosure: I liked to raid the gumball machine when I was home alone too.

There was another decorative fixture in Dad's office, a handcrafted sign. Every time we moved, this piece of wood followed. Regardless of which room housed Dad's old desk and books, there was a burl from a maple tree that followed. It had been sanded and polished and mounted on a flat stand to hold it upright. A photo of a little child handing a flower to an adult was glued to the front beside an engraving that read "The best gift I can give to my children is my love for their mother."


This sweet display followed us from the little rambler around the corner from Jennings Park, where we resided in my earliest recollections, to the apartment across the street from Silver Lake, our last residence before I moved out and turned my folks into empty nesters. My dad still has it; the picture is peeling away but the carving remains. He did his best to live up to this motivational message. He adored my mom. My brother and I were raised knowing that Dad was hopelessly in love with Mom. Even today, any time she travels out of town, my dad is restless and unsure what to do with himself in the absence of his bride.

Naturally, that message followed me on an intellectual level as I transitioned from a teenager living with his parents to an independent young adult, and from a young bachelor to a twenty-some-odd year old new husband. When our firstborn came into our life, I had those words from my dad's office echoing in my head. I was standing in a land of giants with enormous shoes to fill and I tried to live up to this phrase that had guided my father through his marriage.

If I'm honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I did my best to love my son's mom, but I wasn't really skilled at it. I never figured out how to love in that self-sacrificial "love your wives just as Christ loved the church" kind of way. I tried, but sometimes life doesn't reward you with points for effort.

Fast forward another decade. A couple more kids were added to the family but I was no longer a married man. As the stress of divorce and restarting life as a single dad changed all the rules on me, the constant decoration from my dad's office was forgotten. I was facing a new normal and focused on being the best father that I could possibly be.

My energy was spent juggling work schedules with custody agreements. I strove to make the best of the days I had with my kids because I knew I would no longer be able to tuck them into bed every evening. Suddenly, the best gift I had to give my kids was my time. Help with homework. Heart to heart talks about school bullies. Family board games and movie nights. Bonding over Nintendo and X-Box. Playing at the park. Saturday adventures out hiking or relaxing at the beach. We found our own routine and paved a way through previously undeveloped territory.

I'm still their dad, a job title that will never change. However, I can't escape another obvious reality: my ex-wife is still my kids' mother. I have always been aware that my kids have a good mom and she will always be a constant factor in their lives. But I tried to think that we existed in different worlds, like alternate dimensions. I treated her like she was Las Vegas: what happens at mom's house stays at mom's house.

Recently, something changed, a revelation that I should have recognized a long time ago. As long as she is a part of my kids' lives, she will be a part of my life. Despite the divorce, part of our wedding vows remains true: "for as long as we both shall live."

On a late and insomnia filled night, memories of my youth began to stir. I had finished my school work, turned on some music, opened a book, and debated whether or not I wanted to drink a Mike's Hard Black Cherry Lemonade. Somewhere after grabbing a beverage from the fridge and returning to my desk, the phrase seeped into my consciousness like a ghost phasing through the walls. The best gift my dad gave me was his love for my mom. The best gift I can give my kids is to love their mom.

But their mom and I are no longer married. My love for her left the building a long time ago. Isn't that what fuels most divorces? A couple drifts apart and they fall out of love?

The more I thought about it, the more that statement from my childhood rang true. If I am to believe that my kids deserve the best, I need to learn to love their mom all over again. I became increasingly assured that THAT was the best gift I could ever give them.


Then the questions came flooding in. How? How do I love someone who left me? How do I love the person who chose to end our marriage? How do I love the individual who wounded me (emotionally speaking) more than any other human on this planet? How do I love someone I don't always like? How do I love a woman who has already fallen in love with another man? If I wasn't adept at loving her when we were married, how am I supposed to do it now that we're not?

I don't have many good answers. In fact, I'm not sure if I have any answers. But I do know it will take more grace than I can demonstrate on my own. I can guarantee I won't always get it right. Even if the effort is never rewarded, I am convinced my kids deserve a dad who loves their mom.

5.09.2017

The Vanity Dilemma

Vanity plates can be a fun method of self expression. It is the vehicle's owner's way of introducing themselves to the world. You want to know who I am? Read my license plate. But there is a dilemma with using plates (and to some extent, bumper stickers) to describe yourself to the other drivers on the road. The implication is that you must live up to the message you deliver.

Sometimes these messages are contradictory, as if the car's owner has two distinct personalities that can't agree on anything. A test study in cognitive dissonance. I found one of these individuals in the run up to last November's election while following a beat up 80's era sedan. On one one side of their trunk was a coexist sticker - the type spelled with religious symbols like the Islamic crescent for the C, the Jewish star of David for the X, and the Christian cross for the T. The other side of the trunk had a sticker with Trump's Make America Great Again slogan.

Then there are cars whose decorations fit the stereotypes. Like the guy that always wears black; has a beard, long hair, and multiple piercings; and drives a car with plates that read "MTL-HED." In my apartment's parking lot, I often see a dented black sports coupe with the phrase "Send nudes" in white stenciled letters across his back window. Yes, I assumed "his" because I don't know a woman alive who would do that to her car. This coupe was around for months before I ever saw the driver, and when I finally watched him climb out of the driver's seat for the first time, I couldn't help but notice how he looked just as I imagined.

Finally, you have those drivers who portray personalities contrary to the themes promoted in their license plates or bumper stickers. How many times have you been flipped off by a driver who has a Jesus fish on their back bumper? Or observed aggressive driving from someone whose vehicle is adorned with stickers promoting peace and love? These are the persons who face the vanity dilemma. They elected to advertise an unsustainable cheeriness then fail to live up to their own self-imposed definition.

I encountered one of these motorists this morning. She merged into the lane behind me and she was clearly displeased with my adherence to the speed limit. When I looked in the rear view mirror, I observed angry eyebrows, lips twisted by a scowl, and a face quickly turning a darker shade of red. When she finally had the opportunity to pass me, she punched the gas and flew by me at a rate fast enough to earn a speeding ticket had their been a police officer present. As she sped by, her face was the textbook image of rage. After she passed, I read her vanity plate. It said "HAPPY3X."


My reaction was laughter. What else could I do? Here was a lady who wants you to know one thing about her. She's happy. Happy happy happy. Feeling snappy. Life is rosy, comfy cozy. Everything is sunshine and rainbows. She claimed to be jubilant, but clearly she was the opposite. Not singularly happy, let alone three times the joyous emotion.

Now, I'll give her some grace. Everyone is allowed to have a bad day, even the most cheerful among us. It's understandable to be grumpy at 7am. And I don't know the circumstances of her morning. She could have been late for work and I was an obstacle delaying her arrival. She could be a habitual lead-foot and I was nothing more than a pest cramping her style. Maybe she was driving her husband's vehicle and he is the perennially happy half of their relationship.

Yet she is a cautionary tale. When you slap a bumper sticker onto your tailgate or walk into the DVM to order a vanity plate, give it some careful consideration before you advertise yourself to the world. As soon as your message of choice is affixed to the back of your car, you face a dilemma. You must live up to the words you selected. Because people like me will laugh at you when you don't.

5.03.2017

The Left and Leaving

Over the last week, I've listened to Counting Crows more than is probably healthy, and definitely more than anyone has done since 1999. Once in a while, I experience a pervasive mood which can only be sated by Adam Duritz's rambling vocals, his band's jangly folk rock, and nostalgia of a better era of pop music.

In the summer of 1998, Counting Crows released a double live album called Across a Wire. The first set was recorded during their Storytellers performance for VH1. It was mostly stripped down acoustic versions of songs from their first two records, a few with alternate lyrics only recorded at that show. I bought Across a Wire when it first came out; the following winter, I listened to the Storytellers half more than any other album. There was a morose quality to it that seemed to match the way I felt during that season of my life.

This week, I returned to the songs from the Storytellers show. Call it musical therapy. Not only Across a Wire, I've been playing other tracks from Counting Crows career. Other than podcasts, I haven't listened to much else.

As I’ve listened, I have discovered a theme I had not noticed before. Many of Counting Crows’ songs speak from the perspective of someone who has been left or is leaving. Thematically, that would explain why I was drawn to Across a Wire in the winter of 98/99. We had moved from Marysville to Everett. I had changed jobs from a record store to a manufacturing company. I was between girlfriends. It was the last winter that I would spend in the Seattle area before moving to Boise.

Thanks to that winter, I now have a sentimental attachment to the album that demands occasional replay. Especially when I've been left. Or am leaving one thing for another. Counting Crows is the soundtrack for the abandoned or the abandoning. The proof is in their lyrics.


For those who have been left.

From Round Here:
"Round here, she's slipping through my hands"
"She looks up at the building and says she's thinking of jumping, she says she's tired of life, she must be tired of something" (the Storytellers version says "Well, everybody is tired of something")

From Anna Begins:
"It's chasing me away, she disappears, and oh, Lord, I'm not ready for this sort of thing"

From Ghost Train:
"She buys a ticket 'cause it's cold were she comes from, she climbs aboard because she's scared of getting older in the snow"

From Catapult:
"All of a sudden she disappears, just yesterday she was here"
"Someone should be with me here 'cause I don't want to be alone"

From Angels of the Silences:
"Well I guess you left me with some feathers in my hand, did it make it any easier to leave me where I stand"
"Why'd you leave me 'til I'm only good for waiting for you"

From Good Night, Elisabeth:
"I woke up in pieces and Elisabeth had disappeared again"

From Mercury:
"She is a victim of her own responses, shackled to a heart that wants to settle and then runs away"
"She is leaving on a walkaway, she is leaving me in disarray, in the absence of a place to be she stands there looking back at me, hesitates, and then turns away"

From Long December:
"I can't remember the last thing that you said as you were leaving"

From All My Friends:
"All my friends and lovers will leave me behind"


For those who are leaving.

From Round Here:
"Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white"
(Storytellers version) "Would you catch me if I was falling? Would you kiss me if I was leaving? Would you hold me 'cause I'm lonely without you?"

From Rain King:
"I've been here before and I deserve a little more"

From Raining in Baltimore:
"There's things I remember and things I forget, I miss you, I guess I should, three thousand five hundred miles away."

From Catapult:
"I wanna be scattered from here in this catapult"

From Angels of the Silences:
"I'm gone, I'm gone, I'll leave today I'm gone."

From Daylight Fading:
"It's getting cold in California, I guess I'll be leaving soon"
"When we see the early signs of daylight fading we leave just before it's gone"
"I want to say goodbye to you, goodbye to all my friends, goodbye to everyone I know"

From I'm Not Sleeping:
"I've got news for everyone 'cause I'm going out that door"

From Have You Seen Me Lately:
"Get away from me, this isn't gonna be easy, but I don't need you"
"I don't need anyone and these days I feel like I'm fading away"
"I thought that someone would notice, I thought somebody would say something if I was missing"

From Walkaways:
Just the same old walkaways, someday I'm going to stay but not today"

From Hanginaround:
"You know I gotta get out but I'm stuck so tight, weighed by the chains that keep me hanging around"
"I've been bumming around this old town for way too long"

From Speedway:
"Thinking about taking some time, thinking about leaving soon"
"I'm thinking about leaving tomorrow, I'm thinking about being on my own"


There's the theme. Leaving and being left. Perhaps that's why Counting Crows resonates with me. A divorcee and single dad with a melancholy disposition about to leave one ministry for another. Things change. Seasons come and go. When it happens, it's nice to have some music to remind you you're not alone.